When I was young, my mother got me a book: Proverbs For Kids From The Book (of which, I am delighted to see, used copies are still being sold!) It is a kids’ book that basically explains the proverbs in understandable language and with joyous little cartoon caricatures of “wisdom,” “joy,” and “peace.”
That book was my first real connection with the Bible in a meaningful way: something that met me where I was at, that I understood and took to heart and attempted to apply to my life, that let me wield the Word on a personal level. And as I grew, my connection to the Word evolved because I was blessed with opportunities and keen teachers around me: I learned simple verses in Vacation Bible School, did in-depth studies of Scripture with my leaders in Sunday School, and memorized Scripture in my Bible class.
The result is that by the time I was a young adult, I had a serious working knowledge of the Bible. I knew where to look for things; I had read large portions of it; I understood how the books worked together and could understand the themes and major points of the individual books. Most importantly, I had a wealth of Scripture to my name that, in all the years since, I have not forgotten, and which springs unbidden to mind when I least expect it and often when I need it most.
And now, in our modern age, with all of the things that there exist in this world for believers to sigh and fret over and fear, this is what I fear more than anything else: that the Church is losing the Word. That modern believers either do not have, or are not interested in, the opportunities for Scriptural knowledge and growth that I was able to have.
I’m not sure exactly when or how it happened. Maybe part of it occurred with the slow fade of Vacation Bible School and Sunday School – two church activities based heavily on Scripture-learning and study – in favor of more fellowship- and devotional-focused small groups and children’s playgroups where the Word is not so much studied as disseminated in bite-size, discussion-worthy blocks.
Maybe part of it occurred with the busy-ness of believers’ lives, which is so ramped-up – even for children! – that the thought of having to study or learn anything extra seems more a burden than a privilege.
Maybe it’s the temptation of technology, which reassures us that if we do need a verse or to read something in Scripture we can simply look it up on Google when the time comes and needn’t bother knowing it in the meantime.
Maybe it’s the proliferation of Christian living and self-help guides, in which many authors write very well about their interpretation of verses, essentially leading believers to adopt a steady diet of pre-chewed food rather than develop any inclination to look for better nourishment on their own.
Maybe it’s the recent emphasis on church collectivism and group study versus in-depth individual study.
Maybe it’s all of these things together. But the result is, I fear, generations of believers with a puddle-deep knowledge of Scripture who nevertheless feel that they are committed, mature believers. Who know the select Scriptures that they “need” to know or who assume that they can find whatever they need when they need it. Who adopt their Scriptural “knowledge” largely from others. Who eschew the idea of personal Bible study in favor of…well, almost anything else.
And it worries me enormously. It worries me because the intimate knowledge of the Word is one of the most powerful tools a believer can possess. It is a help in debate, in contention, in sorrow, in joy, in encouragement, in trial. It exists to challenge us, to make us think, to draw us deeper into an understanding of God. It is our only written communication from God, the Word meant for our eyes. It is what is meant to be engraved on our hearts and what is supposed to guide our living. We are supposed to see for ourselves what it says: to wrestle with it, to hear it, to love it, to know it.
Even more than that, the practice of individual in-depth Bible study is fundamental to growth. The process itself matters. Learning about who God is matters. Searching for an answer and not finding one, or searching for an answer and finding what you needed, or searching for an answer and finding what you didn’t know you needed – all of those things change us in powerful, imperceptible ways. It is a practice of discipline and will that increases wisdom and the strength of our relationship with and love for God.
So here’s my plea to you: if you don’t have an individual Bible study, and if you don’t spend time alone with Scripture to know and to learn it, get on that. Don’t mislead yourself that it doesn’t matter or that you know what you need to know.
And if you already do that, then please, extend a helping hand to others and encourage them to do the same. Share Scripture with people you encounter. Help your children and other children to learn it and to start the practice of understanding the Word early. Encourage your youth and college groups to demand more from their students than just showing up at activities to worship and learn together. Develop small group and playgroup curricula that foster active knowledge of and pursuit of the Word.
Whatever you do, remain vigilant. Let’s not lose the Word.